Orchard fresh

Slow Theatre takes the reins of the Butcher Shop outdoor festival

“The Butcher Shop” by Haley Hughes.

“The Butcher Shop” by Haley Hughes.

The Butcher Shop: Crack in the Climate happens Aug. 29-31. Food court open for business at 6 p.m., green show starts at 7:30 p.m., main show at 8 p.m.
Cost for entertainment: free

The Butcher Shop
2500 Estes Road

Denver Latimer remembers the backyard theater performances of his Chico youth as “summertime adventures” for him, his brother, Dylan, and their high school friends. And this weekend (Aug. 29-31), 24 years after the Butcher Shop’s debut out behind the family home, the Latimers and their friends are once again getting their theater gang together and inviting the rest of Chico to join them in another performance adventure.

After five seasons (1990-94), the Butcher Shop actually went dark for 15 years as its founders moved from the backyard to downtown, turning their focus to creating and developing the Blue Room Theatre. Then, in 2009, the Blue Room resurrected the outdoor festival in an orchard off Estes Road in south Chico, and the Butcher Shop has since become the signature Labor Day weekend event for the local creative community.

And now, in its sixth year in the orchard, there’s more change, as the newly formed Slow Theatre takes over the production.

Latimer and fellow theater supporters founded Slow Theatre last fall, after creative differences with the Blue Room pulled him away from the company. With a goal of bringing a new measured approach to the local scene, Slow Theatre is based on principles of creating locally relevant works and developing them slowly and deliberately.

Featuring one-act plays interspersed with music and dance performances, the Butcher Shop events rely on dozens of Chico theater people—past and present—to write, direct and perform what can be counted on to be an eclectic program. “It’s always been a place for world-premieres of original work,” Latimer said. “That also means the work is raw and not ready for paying audiences. I think of it as an incubator for work that might later be staged elsewhere or turned into full-length plays.”

This year, the playbill features pieces shaped around a theme, “A Crack in the Climate,” with subjects ranging from global warming and drought to GMOs and fracking. “The Place Where You Go to Listen,” by Chico State English professor (and Slow Theatre co-founder) Rob Davidson, is a one-act centered around a Butte County farmer who loses his water allotment and can’t continue planting crops. He is faced with a moral dilemma when approached by an oil company offering to solve all of his problems.

“I wanted to ask the question, ‘What if the oil companies do come calling [in Butte County]?’” Davidson said. “Fracking is something that’s been on a lot of people’s minds. I’m hoping the play can take the issue seriously, without being preachy.”

Other one-acts on the bill include “Valley Fever,” by Troy Jollimore; “Transformation,” by Forrest Gillespie; “The North vs. the South,” by Johnny Lancaster, Michael Gannon and Roger Montalbano; and “The Leopard,” by Jesse Karch, which the author explained in a promo video is written in a newly invented “neo-animist” style and features an “eco-terrorist cell looking for this notorious leopard poacher out in the forest.”

This year’s eco-conscious theme has attracted the support of community partners that were “interested in telling the story with us,” Latimer said. Those include Butte Environmental Council and Chico Natural Foods Cooperative, both of which will host booths at this year’s festivities.

Members from Slow Food Shasta Cascade also will be on hand, offering cooking demonstrations using local foods. “I like the metaphor of cooking something from scratch while Butcher Shop makes plays from scratch,” Latimer said.

More than aligning with this year’s green theme, the presence of the slow food movement also fits neatly with the ideals of Slow Theatre. “With slow food, you don’t buy food beyond 100 miles of your home. You keep it local,” Latimer said. “Similarly, we can’t pick plays that are New York hits and expect people in Chico to find them relevant. So we’re producing our own work, and looking to adapt from local writers, to keep everything in our area.”

Though many of the returning Butcher Shop artists and performers are no longer Chico residents, they were all once part of the local theater scene, and every Labor Day weekend they fly in from Los Angeles, Portland and New York City to replant their roots in the orchard. And this year, the growing Butcher Shop family—both former and current Chicoans—will meet under the stars and attempt to keep local theater fresh and, hopefully, entertaining.